America’s True Responsibility

By Jordan McGillis

The killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi has sent waves of euphoria across Libya and much of the Arab world, bringing to a close a long and bloody chapter in the country’s history. For forty-two years the autocrat ruled Libya with a peculiar mix of socialism, Islamism, and strongman nationalism. Qaddafi’s political ideology was rife with inconsistencies and his behavior erratic; thus, for parts of six decades, the Libyan people lived in terror under the reign of one man’s subjective whim. To be sure, such a man has no place in the modern world.

In the wake of Qaddafi’s death, NATO, the UN Security Council, and President Barack Obama have been praised for the extensive air strike campaign which was instrumental in helping the Libyan rebels gain the upper hand and eventually ousting the dictator. In spite of the outpouring of transcontinental support and the tactical success of the air strike campaign, known as Operation Unified Protector, we must still scrupulously evaluate the validity of the endeavor. Did Operation Unified Protector serve American interests? Were the objectives justified? And ultimately, was this the proper course of action for the United States of America?

In order to accurately identify the interests and objectives of the United States of America—foreign and domestic—we must first establish the proper role of the American government. We must determine what the government should and should not do, and determine the scale and scope of acceptable government action. These premises establish a standard by which all governmental decisions should be made. Simply put, the proper role of the American government, as established by the Constitution, is to protect the individual rights of its citizens. These individual rights include the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to property – no more, and no less.  In the realm of foreign affairs, the mandate of the United States government is no different than at home: defend the individual rights of Americans. Did Operation Unified Protector fit that billing? Was the objective of the action to defend the individual rights of Americans? Clearly, the answer is no.

American involvement in Operation Unified Protector was not motivated by threats against American lives, liberty, or property. In fact, it had very little to do with America whatsoever. American military engagement in Libya was instead motivated by a dubious, developing international norm known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect provides the following introduction on their website:

Recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.[1]

In March, when Operation Unified Protector had just begun, President Barack Obama offered his justification for the decision to use American military might apart from any American interest. He said, “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.”[2]

The underlying philosophy of Operation Unified Protector and R2P is one that has now set a terrifying precedent for the United States: a philosophy of self-sacrifice. According to this developing international norm and President Obama’s speeches regarding actions in Libya, the United States military is no longer an instrument responsible for securing the inviolability of the rights of American citizens, but rather one with, in the words of the president, “responsibilities to our fellow human beings.” According to this doctrine, American tax dollars and even the lives of American soldiers can permissibly be expended anywhere in the world if officials in Washington deem we have “responsibilities to our fellow human beings.” This line of thinking, devoid of rationality and completely detached from America’s constitutional foundation, tears at the fabric of our republic and could lead to ruin.

The United States of America was founded on the principle of individual rights. And it is only the individual rights of Americans that the US government has a responsibility to protect. Before again sacrificing American troops and treasure abroad, President Obama would be wise to consider where his true responsibilities lie.

[Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army]




6 thoughts on “America’s True Responsibility

  • October 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    First of all, it is not at all clear to me how the mere use of American military power for purposes other than the protection of individual Americans is, by itself, irrational. Acting rationally implies nothing more than acting in accordance with your beliefs and desires. One might argue that the goal of protecting citizens of foreign countries is not a good one. One might argue that the use of force is poorly suited for accomplishing this goal. But if the President wants to accomplish this goal, and he believes that the use of military force will help him to do so, there is nothing irrational about his behavior.

    Consider the following example. A man believes that he has cancer. Furthermore, the man believes that drinking gasoline will cure his cancer. He also has a strong desire to be healthy. Therefore, he begins drinking gasoline profusely. Nothing about his behavior his irrational. We might say that he is in error, and that his belief that drinking gasoline will be beneficial to his health is false. But, based upon his beliefs and desires, we cannot say that he is acting irrationally. You may claim that the use of American military power to protect the citizens of other countries is bad. You might even claim that it is unconstitutional. I fail to see on what grounds you can claim that it is irrational.

    As for the claim that the use of American military power to protect citizens of foreign countries is “completely detached from America’s constitutional foundation,” I think that this is nothing but hyperbole. Completely detached in what way? What part of the Constitution is the government violating if it uses the military to protect non-American citizens?

    Furthermore, you also claim that “it is only the individual rights of Americans that the US government has a responsibility to protect.” This is a very categorical statement, and even if it is true, it is not obviously true, at least not to me. If one accepts this premise, it follows that the United States may not use its military to do any of the following: prevent or put a stop to genocide, unless American lives are directly at risk; secure economic or environmental resources which are not directly under the control of American citizens; react to offenses committed against foreign countries, including allies, unless American citizens are directly in danger. Among other things, your position, if adopted, would prevent the United States acting on treaty obligations. If, for example, a NATO country were to be attacked by a foreign aggressor, according to your rule, the United States would be unjustified in intervening unless American citizens were being threatened. Or are you claiming that we should never enter into military alliances? The United States does not exist in a vacuum, and acting as if it does is irresponsible. It would seem to me that a wise foreign policy would leave itself room for adaptation and flexibility. Working from rules hammered out in abstraction which admit of no exceptions is the best way to find yourself without any options.

  • May 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Armand, thank you for your conscientious reply. It’s nice to see someone thinking critically around here. With that said, I will now respond to the issues you bring forth in order.

    You said, “Acting rationally implies nothing more than acting in accordance with your beliefs and desires.” This is false. In fact, gravely so. To act rationally does not mean to act in accordance with one’s beliefs and desires, but rather to act in accordance with reality. Are all beliefs and desires created equal? Absolutely not. Some (read: most) are completely at odds with rationality because they are at odds with reality. A prime example being religion. If the beliefs and desires that a man holds are forged by faith or simple emotions and not validated through reason, then the pursuit of those beliefs and desires is actually the embodiment of irrationality. (This is what most people do everyday of their lives.)

    Regarding your example, why, I ask, does this man believe drinking gasoline will cure him of cancer? Has it been empirically demonstrated to him that gasoline has such capabilities? Or is his belief in the power of gas based on faith? If the answer is the latter, then he is acting irrationally. The key questions is: why does he think gasoline will cure him? (Hypothetically, if in the context of his rationally-obtained knowledge gasoline really did seem capable of curing cancer [let’s say he misinterpreted some data], then to drink it would be a rational decision and his error would be one of knowledge.)

    • May 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Since you throw the word around so freely, I would like you to define PRECISELY what constitutes “reality.”

      Also, it’s painfully obvious that your knowledge of philosophy is amateurish and and derived entirely from the works of Ayn Rand. Stick to what you’re good at.

  • May 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Reality? Hang on while I grab my copy of Atlas Shrugged. . . .

    Reality is that which exists. You’ve asked for precision (in all caps no less), and while the answer I’ve just given is precise, I think what you are really asking is for me to define the relationship between reality and consciousness. Thus I’ll add: Reality is that which exists and that which exists exists independent of consciousness.

    Your conclusion that my understanding of philosophy is “derived entirely” from the works of Ayn Rand is false, but let me state with pride: I am an Objectivist indeed.

    • May 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      Defining reality as “what exists” is like defining humans as “homo sapiens.” All you’ve done is repeat yourself. You haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know. That’s not precise at all, that’s speaking in generalities that are completely empty of meaningful content. You have answered nothing.

      But while we’re on the topic, how do you know that what exists is independent of human consciousness? Do you have a line to a non-human who can verify that? Do you step outside your own consciousness once in a while and check?

      • January 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm

        The troubling situation unfolding in North Africa prompted me to check out this old blogpost to see if it held up–I think it does. In other news, I was mildly pleased to find your response, Mr. Duncan.

        To begin, I must say that I neither understand nor appreciate your general mean-spiritedness.

        Nevertheless, your question regarding the relationship between existence and consciousness is obviously a central conundrum in the history of philosophy. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on this matter–wrong turns are always fascinating. You’ve asked how I know that existence exists independent of consciousness and my I think it’s best to show this through an observation of consciousness’s _de_pendence. Reality does not conform to the will of the mind. Now, consciousness can impact things outside of itself through the body, of course, but it’s very limited and specific in scope. Consciousness is integrated with the body through the brain and works in concert with it within the bounds of the laws governing nature. For example, I can initiate an action such as wiggling the five toes on my left foot, but I cannot initiate an action such as growing a sixth—let alone directly impact anything beyond myself. Even in relation to the body, consciousness is a dependent phenomenon and existence has primacy. I fully expect you to reject this, but I would request that in addition to your rejection you explain your own positions.


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